Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ethics for leaders

I listened to a great presentation this month by Dr Simon Longstaff from St James Ethics Centre. His key question to the group was - how many times have we encountered people who look one way and then go another way.
He said that whenever we see hypocrisy it has a terrible impact. As children we remember that deep-seated disappointment when we realised that someone was being hypocritical. And if we see this behaviour in business, we adopt the attitude of, 'well if they don't do it and believe it, why should I? So I might as well look after myself.'
This is where so much cynicism arises irrespective of culture and there are therefore huge benefits for leaders to act in an ethical way. The link between strong ethics and good business has been proven through research to be a very strong link indeed.
Books such as Jim Collins's 'Built to Last' show through extensive research that organisations that endure have high levels of trust. And where you have high levels of trust, you also have low levels of cost.
In organisations where every ounce of energy is used to maintain systems and processes to keep people constrained, the central concern of the organisation becomes regulation. On the other hand, smart organisations evolve and are bound together through values and principles.
Consistent leaders are also essential to the mix because if you lose moral authority, you lose the war. Instead of investing in the control systems, money is far better spent on investment in leadership development.
Simon gave the example that even in the military, leaders are looking to make ethical decisions. Leadership by its very nature is an ethical practice.
It is the leaders role to articulate the vision and the values and principles of the organisation. We need to be aware of what we are rewarding and recognising in our teams because the message that this sends out is so vitally important. We can do things unthinkingly that are just done because that is how they have always been done. But it is the leaders' role to subvert existing practice and to have the moral courage to change what needs to be changed!

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